Tuesday, March 31, 2015

LAR 560 Washington DC Field Trip (03.26.15-03.29.15)

Although I have only visited Washington, DC a handful of times, it has always been a fascinating experience and holds both history and intrigue within its borders. As I begin a career in Landscape Architecture, the exposure to a variety of firms and projects aided in building a knowledge-base for me to begin working from. As we begin building our portfolios and structuring our careers, having this firsthand knowledge as well as feedback from professionals will greatly enhance our experiences in the real world and give us valuable knowledge of the types of firms in existence before we begin searching for occupations with them.

Coming back to DC after a few years, I was able to engage with the city and community in ways that I had not in prior years. Staying at an Airbnb in Alexandria (just an Uber drive away from the rest of the class) provided an interesting dynamic and allowed me to see more of the city from a new lens. As I had spent the last trip (an architecture field trip) focusing on the built environment, it was completely different to spend this trip looking at materials, details, and the landscape. It felt like we were operating at a more human scale as we rode the metro and went to places like the Navy Yard, where details were plentiful. 

Because this trip was so well-planned, we were treated to a plethora of firms and experiences that helped us to gauge the very different ideologies of LA firms. Of the firms we visited, each had its strengths and setbacks.  LandDesign seemed like a decent firm to work for, but I felt like they were a bit too reliant on 3D imaging. I felt like  GGN has a firm grasp on using multiple styles to translate ideas, especially when it came to modeling.  MVLA was impressive in their attention to detail and their hand-renderings. I really enjoyed their presentation on the
Disabled Veterans Memorial and felt the attention to detail and scale of their projects was monumental.

Of all of the firms, HOK actually stood out to me as a firm I would feel comfortable working for. I was impressed by their scale, the variety of projects they worked on, and the resources (such as the materials library) they had at their disposal. I really appreciate the idea of interdisciplinary firms that can give clients a one-stop shop (so to speak) for their needs. The building itself was unique and had been renovated in a very articulate way. I was a bit put off by the mostly female staff at first (and the architects being hidden in the basement), but the amount of experimentation and different modes of expression is certainly appealing.  Being someone who enjoys to travel, the international element of their business seemed very intriguing and I could see many benefits in working for a firm with multiple offices around the world. 

There were many highlights from the trip. I enjoyed exploring Georgetown and Alexandria. I had never been on U-Street or visited Chinatown so these were very exciting experiences in terms of texture. The city has a lavish amount of texture and color that seems to be underrepresented in media. The people were also incredibly friendly. It seemed like everywhere we went people were buying us drinks and filling us in on great things in the city. It was refreshing to be in a city that size and meet so many wonderful people. It made us feel very at home and there was a spirit of exploration that I hadn’t felt in previous visits. 

One of my favorite moments was when Julie Beckman spoke about designing the Pentagon Memorial (with Keith Kaseman.) Despite it being freezing cold that day, I was enamored with her descriptions of their process and the many opportunities and challenges they faced in designing such a prominent memorial. Watching visitors interact with the space was particularly interesting. I think it is a beautiful and meaningful project and the mood it created was both refined and proper.

Visiting ASLA was also a very unique experience. I have seen photos of their green roof in magazines before and found it particularly impressive. It was great to learn about the process in renovating the space and how challenging the climate was in reference to planting and maintaining the green roof. As a person with a background in media, it was also wonderful to hear about how the magazine began and details about their process. I found their aesthetic very interesting and look forward to seeing how the magazine and ASLA transform in the coming years. 

My favorite moment was visiting the Kogod Courtyard (GGN) of the National Portrait Gallery. My classmate and I spent hours just in the courtyard: drinking espresso, taking naps on large marble platforms,  analyzing the space, and watching people. It was a space I had visited before but never fully appreciated. The sound is dampened, the moving water has a comforting tone, and the quality of light changed throughout our time there quite beautifully. The scale of the project is mesmerizing, as well as the structure. It was a warm, bustling oasis in contrast to rather stoic galleries. We spent hours just trying to figure out what was muffling the sound (was it the floor?) and admiring how successful the space was for encompassing a large number of people.

The trip was successful. It really aided us in gaining new perspectives in the operation and maintaining of firms, different typologies, and how they handled day-to-day operations and administrative tasks.  The experiential qualities of the trip, however, were the main takeaways for me. There was a sense of camaraderie and purpose in the visit and I feel that for me personally it was a rewarding experience in furthering my education and knowledge of professional practices in the future. I spent way too much money at times, but the lessons we received on this trip were clearly invaluable.

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